At long last, geographers, cartographers, travelers and businesses can finally explore the world as it was meant to be – using ‘Map World’, the Chinese government’s answer to Google Maps.
The State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping unveiled the program which will give internet users a unique insight into global geography in and around Beijing and more that 200 other Chinese cities. Users can zoom in to street view on the capital in all of its glory, however views of the rest of the world are more limited to the extent that once zooming is attempted above 500m the screen turns white.
Controversially, the program includes the province of southern Tibet within China’s borders. This is the area also known as Arunachal Pradesh, one of two territories in dispute with India. The other is Aksai Chin, a region of Kashmir, which Map World incorporates into the Xinjiang province. The bureau has chosen to protect sensitive areas such as military bases which can be clearly seen on the Google version – a sensitive issue after revelations such as one in 2008 that a newly constructed Chinese Navy ballistic missile submarine could be seen in commercially available satellite photographs.
Map World does allow access to detailed maps of Chinese provinces including road and rail maps, with pushpin and distance features similar to Google. There are also links to a number of other publications by the Bureau including a special atlas – “to reflect China’s reform and opening up 30 years of glorious history and brilliant achievements” published in conjunction with hundreds of government agencies, and following some of the worst flooding China has seen in decades, a disaster map (crashed at time of writing) featuring detailed statistics and information on regional disasters.
The launch follows a move in May by the Chinese government to require all online mapping providers to obtain a license. In order to obtain such a license they are required to maintain servers in mainland China. Google has not yet applied for such a license – its most local servers are in Hong Kong – and the maps could share the fate of its other blocked services such as Youtube and Picasa. China’s number 1 video site is the locally hosted Youku (special treat in that link), which has benefited significantly from government regulation.
China has taken significant steps to make a product available to its people that will rival currently available offerings and almost inevitably replace them. Whether that is replacement by force or by choice remains to be seen.
Chinese Government’s Google Maps
Give Map World a try here (after brushing up on your Chinese).